BIOMASS CROP production could be worth up to £12m a year to the rural economy of Pembrokeshire, farmers attending an open day at Narberth were told.

The Institute for Grassland and Environmental Research and Cardiff University are carrying out field-scale trials of a variety of crops.

They are growing short rotation coppice willow, miscanthus and reed canary grass in the county with the support of the developers of the £60m Bluestone tourism project, which will include a renewable energy centre.

Farmer Paul Ratcliffe, a member of the newly formed co-operative Bio Energy Ltd, said that the developer‘s aim was to get part of their energy needs from renewable sources.

This would create diversification opportunities for farmers in Pembrokeshire and other parts of Wales.

Miscanthus could generate an income of £600/ha/year. Each ha would replace 6000litres of heating oil, and help cut carbon dioxide emissions.

“Once Bluestone has established a market it will open the door for other renewable energy initiatives and market opportunities for Welsh farmers,” said Mr Ratcliffe.

Chris Duller, who runs IGER‘s all-Wales willow project, said the Welsh Assembly was backing the growing of biomass crops and farmer reaction was proving very favourable.